The 2017 One Story Per Week Writing Challenge

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It started in September whilst I was conducting an interview with Jessica McHugh on the This Is Horror Podcast. Jessica told me of her own one story per week challenge back in 2014, an idea that was spawned by a Ray Bradbury quote:

Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
—Ray Bradbury

I thought I’d put Ray Bradbury’s claim to the test and take on the challenge. After all, there are two possible outcomes:

  1. I write a minimum of one good (okay, ‘not bad’) story
  2. I disprove the great Ray Bradbury’s theory

But rather than go it alone, I announced an open invitation on the This Is Horror Podcast for other writers to join me, and there are now twenty-six of us taking part in this challenge, so between us we’ll write at least 1,352 stories in 2017.

Do the work and write despite the possibility of failure. Do it to spite failure—a big middle finger raised high and proud.

The challenge is simple (well, the concept is simple). To write one story every week in 2017. I created a support group via Slack to enable writers to share progress and encourage one another. I opted for Slack because anything linked with social media would spell disaster for productivity and a message board or private website approach felt outdated. The support group contains the following channels (complete with ‘trendy’ hashtags as is Slack’s style):  

  • #AmReading: to share what you're reading and inspire others.
  • #AmWatching: to share what you’re watching (bet you didn’t see that coming).
  • #Current Markets: to share current markets and callouts to help others place their finished stories.
  • #FinishedStories: to post the name and word count of your finished story each week.
  • #General: general communications and messages about the challenge.
  • #Inspiration: to share quotes, articles, podcasts, memes, and anything else that will inspire others.
  • #PostYourProgress: a place to let others know how you're getting on with your story each week.
  • #Random: an off-topic section where anything goes.
  • #StoryHelp: for those struggling with a particular story or aspect of the craft—everything from story structure to self-doubt.

To add to the fun, I set myself the bonus challenge of reading at least one story per day. Which meant just one week into 2017 I’d already read short stories by the likes of Nathan Ballingrud, Rebecca Jones-Howe, George Saunders, Livia Llewellyn, Max Booth III, Stephen Volk, John Skipp, Dale Bailey, Haruki Murakami, Stephen King, Flannery O'Connor and Jeff VanderMeer. I highly encourage anyone reading this to consider committing to reading at least one story per day. And there are so many places to read stories online, including Nightmare Magazine, The Dark Magazine, Gamut, The New Yorker, and even the Great Jones Street app for your smartphone. If audio’s more your style there are a number of short story fiction podcasts, too, some of my favourites include The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, Pseudopod, The Other Stories, Nightmare, and Tales To Terrify.

We’re just three weeks into the challenge but having consulted the current participants I’ve identified some advantages and disadvantages of writing one story per week.   

Writing More

As with other writing challenges, an obvious benefit for many writers is an increase in daily word count and completed stories per week. What separates this from NaNoWriMo—where the idea is to complete a single piece of work or meet the 1000 words per day challenge—is the vast number of finished stories required to successfully complete this challenge. A minimum of 52 stories per year is not to be sniffed at, and whilst the quality will vary and some stories will flop, the numbers game suggests you’ll have some stories you’ll be proud to submit to magazines, anthologies, and other markets. And whatever happens you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing style: not only your likes and dislikes, but your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, areas you most want to improve, and your ideal story aesthetic.  

Motivation, Accountability, and Sense of Urgency

When you sign up for a challenge that includes a support group and place to post your progress you’re automatically accountable for doing the work and explaining any slip-ups. Couple this with the fast-pace of it all and there’s an undeniable sense of urgency. There’s no tinkering for weeks that ultimately turn into months as you craft one story. You must knuckle down, do the work, and—as Chuck Wendig so often says—“finish your shit."

Jake Marley put it well when he said, “My favorite part of the challenge is that I'm discovering the difference between writing purposefully and on-demand versus quacking into the void.”

This links back to the challenge as a process of exploration and self-discovery. The timescale allows little room for self-doubt—you get the work done now and worry about negative chatter later. George Ttoouli—my Creative Writing tutor at university and the author of Static Exile—had this to say about the initial composition of creative endeavours and self-doubt:

You have to leave your ego at the door when you're drafting. It's an old cliché, but important. You can't keep second-guessing the story, or allowing your doubt in the room. Try and wipe away those insecurities about whether something is good or bad, will please or displease readers, even before you've written it.

Writing one story per week forces you to adopt this mindset, to rediscover the joy of writing, and to ask questions later.

Becoming Comfortable With Failure  

Whenever I sit down to write a short story (or a long story) there’s a voice that says, “what if it’s shit?” But when you’re writing 52 stories in a year the only real response is: “well, if it’s shit I have another 51 chances.” It’s a Samuel Beckett-esque mindset—another fifty-one opportunities to try again and to fail better. Here’s the thing: anyone who’s ever achieved anything great has a lot of experience failing. If you want to achieve something then you’re going to have to make mistakes and fail a number of times before you get it right. This applies to all manner of things. So rather than worrying and asking yourself “what if?”, flip it on its head. Accept that failure is one of a number of possibilities and become okay with that. Then do the work and write despite the possibility of failure. Do it to spite failure—a big middle finger raised high and proud.

Branching Out Into Unknown Territory

Once you're comfortable with failure it’s far easier to experiment and write within genres and voices you’re unfamiliar with. Writing in places unknown. This is a good thing as you get to flex your writerly chops and see whether you sink or swim (sometimes you’ll do both in the same story … in the same paragraph, even). With fifty-two stories in one year you’re going to need to branch out. Not only does no one want to read fifty-two versions of the same tale, riffing off the same theme, but chances are you’re going to grow pretty bored writing the same stories, too. To help you write outside your comfort zone, start reading writers and genres you’ve never read. You don’t have to read outside your comfort zone on every occasion, and there’s nothing wrong with having favourite genres or writers, but challenge yourself to pick up a book you wouldn’t ordinarily read, once every three or four stories.

Sense of Community

But perhaps the most valuable benefit of the one story per week challenge is the sense of community and opportunity to network with and support other writers. Many of the writers within this group didn’t know one another before starting out, but already we feel close-knit, offering each other support, inspiration, and advice. The fact that we’re in this together is invaluable given that so often writing can be a lonely and solitary pursuit.

The Disadvantages

The two disadvantages that writers within the group have noted most often:

  1. Quick writing can lead to sloppier first drafts
  2. Prioritising writing can mean neglecting other important tasks

It’s true that quick writing may lead to sloppier first drafts, but it’s important to manage your expectations and do what works for you. If you’re writing first drafts then be okay with that. Know that you’re writing a first draft and that it’s something you’ll work on again in the future. Or purposefully limit the word count so that you have the necessary time to redraft and deliver a tightly polished piece within the week.

John Costello says of the challenge: “It's forced me to cut my cloth to suit my needs, so the time I have at my disposal has dictated the form of the pieces. They need to be short, sweet and self-contained in the 1500–2500 word range.”

This is John’s strategy and it works for him. You must find a strategy that works for you. This year, Jessica McHugh is limiting her short story challenge stories to flash fiction. The only requirement is to write a story each week. That’s it.  

To the second point, prioritising one task means neglecting something else. If writing is important to you then prioritise it above things that are less important to you. If it isn’t, there’s no shame in that, but perhaps this isn’t the challenge for you. I prioritise writing, studying Japanese, exercising, and meditation. In that order, too (although there’s an argument it would be better for my health to prioritise exercise above everything else, but the important thing is being comfortable with the decisions you make).


If you’re interested in writing one story per week I wholeheartedly encourage you to join us. Just post in the comments, let me know you’re interested in the challenge, and I’ll add you to the support group.

As things stand I’ve already penned over 20,000 words as part of the challenge and haven’t ever been more excited about my fiction writing. And if you’re suffering from self-doubt, just remember that Ray Bradbury quote and see if you can prove him wrong or he can prove you right … you kind of win either way.  

Michael David Wilson

Column by Michael David Wilson

Michael David Wilson is a professional writer and editor. He is the Managing Editor and Owner of the popular UK horror website, podcast and small press, This Is Horror. He is the founder of the ancestral health website and podcast, Paleo Minds. A qualified ESL Teacher and graduate of The University of Warwick’s English Literature and Creative Writing Programme, you can connect with Michael on Twitter @WilsonTheWriter.

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Comments

Jon Gutierrez's picture
Jon Gutierrez is reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey January 19, 2017 - 1:53pm

I'm interested in the challenge and I'd love to be part of the support group. 

Tony Bowman's picture
Tony Bowman January 19, 2017 - 2:21pm

I'm interested.

Migz Pen's picture
Migz Pen January 19, 2017 - 3:41pm

I'm down.

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. January 20, 2017 - 6:05am

Put me down. This is way hard reach. Might be worth the journey. I'm already three stories behind almost, but what the hell. Please add me to the support group.  gail smith reynolds  How do I connect with the Slack group?

NaturalE's picture
NaturalE January 19, 2017 - 7:28pm

I very much would love to join! - Devyn Price

Sasha Noirot's picture
Sasha Noirot January 20, 2017 - 6:30am

I'd lke to join the group if it's possible

 

Justin Chang's picture
Justin Chang January 20, 2017 - 7:09pm

Why not? I need to stop being lazy

Kimberly Edmunds's picture
Kimberly Edmunds January 20, 2017 - 7:35pm

I actually started doing this on my own three weeks ago! I'd like to join the support group! 

Lewis Harrison's picture
Lewis Harrison January 20, 2017 - 11:41pm

I'd love to be part of this, please. Nice idea!

JB Wyczynski's picture
JB Wyczynski from Leeds U.K. is reading John Hornor Jacobs January 21, 2017 - 1:11am

I'd like to get involved with this, how do I go about joining the support group?

natureislelove's picture
natureislelove January 21, 2017 - 1:56am

I'm Interested and would love to get involved, would also appreciate joining the support group.

Ben Friedman's picture
Ben Friedman January 21, 2017 - 2:28am

Interested! 

Ben Friedman's picture
Ben Friedman January 21, 2017 - 2:28am

Interested! 

Ben Friedman's picture
Ben Friedman January 21, 2017 - 2:28am

Interested! 

Drew Miller's picture
Drew Miller from Berkhamsted, UK is reading Maus January 21, 2017 - 8:50am

Hi, I'd be interested in joining as well. I've had a story on the go for the last week and a half and I've found myself stuck finishing it. I'd love to have a support group to help me out, otherwise it's just me and the cats - and they're no bloody help! :)

brandiauset's picture
brandiauset January 21, 2017 - 11:41am

Interested! And thank you for this.

Margot Adams's picture
Margot Adams January 21, 2017 - 4:58pm

So interested. Sounds fun which may not last but I'll hold onto the feeling for as long as possible. Thank you.

James Starbird's picture
James Starbird January 21, 2017 - 5:25pm

I'm interested. This should be interesting to say the least.

 

Mark Mason's picture
Mark Mason from Sydney, Australia is reading Best Australian Poems 2016 January 21, 2017 - 6:36pm

Yes - very interested. Please add me. And thanks!

Sharareh Faramarz's picture
Sharareh Faramarz January 21, 2017 - 8:24pm

I am interested in joining the group, more for reading and gaining experience as I am yet to start.

Sharareh Faramarz's picture
Sharareh Faramarz January 21, 2017 - 8:24pm

I am interested in joining the group, more for reading and gaining experience as I am yet to start.

Sharareh Faramarz's picture
Sharareh Faramarz January 21, 2017 - 8:24pm

I am interested in joining the group, more for reading and gaining experience as I am yet to start.

Irina Bocharova's picture
Irina Bocharova January 22, 2017 - 4:06am

I'd lke to join the group.))) Thanks for Idea!

 

Michael David Wilson's picture
Michael David Wilson from United Kingdom is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones January 22, 2017 - 3:57am

Wow—how wonderful to hear that so many of you are interested. If you send me a PM I'll send you the invitation to the Slack group. Of course, for all those who have commented above I'll be getting in touch. 

All the best, 

Michael 

Michael David Wilson's picture
Michael David Wilson from United Kingdom is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones January 22, 2017 - 3:57am

Wow—how wonderful to hear that so many of you are interested. If you send me a PM I'll send you the invitation to the Slack group. Of course, for all those who have commented above I'll be getting in touch. 

All the best, 

Michael 

Navaid Zafar's picture
Navaid Zafar January 22, 2017 - 6:47am

I am definitely interested. Is there a genre restriction or do we have full freedom?

Shelby Chant's picture
Shelby Chant January 22, 2017 - 9:51am

I'd love to do this. Just left my corporate "writing" job and am crazy busy trying to openness a new family business, but I need some sanity...it's writing and exercise. I'm in!

MTSakura's picture
MTSakura January 22, 2017 - 2:33pm

I've got an idea--a general theme of my stories....but intimidated by the challenge too.  I would like to join the group.

truelight8's picture
truelight8 from New York is reading Nothing at the moment, I'm open to suggestions! January 23, 2017 - 1:11pm

I'm interested too! Been meaning to get back into writing for awhile since grad school ended. :D

backstreetballads's picture
backstreetballads January 23, 2017 - 6:51pm

Definitely interested in this - would love to join the group. 

Michael David Wilson's picture
Michael David Wilson from United Kingdom is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones January 24, 2017 - 4:55am

I've sent everyone who's expressed interest in the challenge thus far a message, so get back to me and I'll see you in the Slack group! 

Best of luck, 

Michael David Wilson 

michaelshanye71's picture
michaelshanye71 from monticello kentucky is reading The Blade Itself January 26, 2017 - 9:46am

I'm interested

Willow Scarlett's picture
Willow Scarlett February 7, 2017 - 3:29pm

I know it's late in the game, but I'm interested and I'd love to join too!

JanelleWrites's picture
JanelleWrites from Manchester is reading The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge March 2, 2017 - 1:31am

Hello. I've only just stumbled across your post but I'd love to join as a latecomer. Thanks. 

catherineberridge1066's picture
catherineberrid... April 17, 2017 - 9:54am

Hi!  I know I a latercomer but I would like to join too.  Thanks!